I regret that I am finally posting his words only after learning of his passing today. In January 2018, I contacted my former colleagues in an attempt to publish their work at my site to help them gain exposure and drive traffic to my website. I was blessed to have worked alongside accomplished people who thankfully also saw value in my website. One such colleague, Ahmad ‘Maceo’ Eldridge Cleaver, son of Black Panther leaders Eldridge Cleaver and Kathleen Cleaver, offered his work entitled “Jesus in The Qur’an” for me to read and publish here. The following is a reproduction of his work, which I promised to publish earlier this year and sadly am fulfilling my promise only now. Given the length of this text (25 pages), it will be published in parts.
The following is in the words of Ahmad Maceo Eldridge Cleaver, may God have mercy on his soul.
Jesus in The Qur’an by AHMAD ELDRIDGE CLEAVER
In the Qur’anic prophetic history Jesus occupies one of the most important roles as the Messiah, born of a virgin birth who is destined to come again before the day of Judgment. There also exist other similarities between the Christian perspective of Jesus and how the Qur’an describes his birth, message and the names he is called by. However, the striking difference is the repeated message the Qur’an conveys of the humanity of Jesus the prophet and the scripture’s method of reasons that argues against the Trinitarian creed. These modes of argumentation are the most unique aspect of the Jesus narratives in the Qur’an and an analysis of them will be highlighted in this article.
The Qur’an presents to readers twenty prophets who preceded the advent of Muhammad. Among them is Jesus whose prophesy occupies a major position in the accounts of Qur’anic prophetic history. Jesus’ name is mentioned in the Qur’an more frequently than the name Muhammad and unlike the other prophets; Jesus narratives tell us of events that occurred throughout the entire span of his life. His prophetic history occurs within fourteen suras of the Qur’an which vary in content, context, length and in the aspects each separate account seeks to convey.
The view that the Qur’an does not see Jesus as a prophet to whom scripture was revealed has been promoted as recently as this year, 2009 in the Encyclopedia of the Qur’an by Reuven Firestone where he writes; “…and in the Qur’an Abraham and Moses are the sole prophets explicitly identified as bearers of scriptures.” However, the Qur’an in its own specific, technical and clear language gives accounts of the revelation of divine scripture to Abraham, to Noah, and also to David, to Jesus and to Muhammad within its 114 suras. The meanings of the Qur’anic Arabic that signify revealed scripture can be eluding and enigmatic to Orientalist scholars. In this essay, I will present a close reading of the Qur’anic prophetic accounts of Jesus and divide some of their most noteworthy material into the following six subsections: Miracles, Revelation of the Gospel, Outreach of Jesus, Crucifixion or Divine Sleight of Hand, Qur’anic Anti-Trinitarian Arguments and the Place of Jesus in Prophetic History. Special focus will be laid upon the method of reasoning employed in the Qur’anic text to convince readers as well as the uniqueness of form, structure, and content in these prophetic accounts.
Jesus in the Qur’an
Jesus is mentioned in twenty-five accounts that span across fourteen suras of the Qur’an. In addition to his name there are at least fifteen titles which he is honorably called by. The titles by which he is respectfully addressed are Son of Mary, (Q. 2:293, 5:46, 57:27) Messiah, (Q. 3:47, 4:171, 172, 175, 4:157, 172, 175, 5:75) Servant of God, (Q 4:172, 19:30), Messenger of God, (Q. 2:81, 2:254, 3:43) Prophet, (Q. 2:136, 3:39, 4:163) One of the Upright, (Q. 3:40, 46) Blessed, (Q. 19:30-32) Parable, (Q. 43:57, 59) Sign, (Q. 2:81, 254, 4:169) Word, (Q. 3:40, 4:169,171) a Mercy, (Q. 19:21) and a Witness (Q. 4:159, 5:117). The narratives of Jesus are found in six Meccan and eight Medinan suras which contradicts a popular Orientalist notion that Muhammad learned about Jesus from the Jews in Medina. Among these accounts include ayat where Jesus’ name is not mentioned, however, important circumstances are provided to grasp the meaning of his prophetic history. The Qur’anic accounts of Jesus can be arranged in the following order.
Sura Name & Number: Al-Baqara 2; Ayat: 87, 116, 136, 253; Sura Period: Medina
Sura Name & Number: Aali Imran 3; Ayat: 45, 52, 55; Sura Period: Medina
Sura Name & Number: An-Nisa; Ayat: 87, 116, 136, 253; Sura Period: Medina
Sura Name & Number: Al-Ma’idah 5; Ayat: 17, 46, 72-73, 75, 78, 110-114, 116; Sura Period: Medina
Sura Name & Number: Al-An’am 6; Ayat: 85; Sura Period: Mecca
Sura Name & Number: At-Tawbah 9; Ayat: 30-32; Sura Period: Medina
Sura Name & Number: Maryam 19; Ayat: 19-35; Sura Period: Mecca
Sura Name & Number: Al-Anbiya 21; Ayat: 91; Sura Period: Mecca
Sura Name & Number: Al-Mu’minun 23; Ayat: 50; Sura Period: Mecca
Sura Name & Number: Ash-Shura 42: Ayat: 13; Sura Period: Medina
Sura Name & Number: Ash-Shura 42; Ayat: 13; Sura Period: Medina
Sura Name & Number: Az-Zukhruf 43: Ayat: 57-59, 61, 63-64; Sura Period: Mecca
Sura Name & Number: Al-Hadid 57; Ayat: 27; Sura Period: Medina
Sura Name & Number: Al-Saff 61; Ayat: 6-7, 14; Sura Period: Medina
The Qur’an can be seen to introduce its accounts of prophetic history with an introductory phrase that sets these special narratives apart and calls attention to the upcoming news that follows:
“tilka rusul… those Messengers.” (Q. 2:253)
We are told in this ayah that Jesus was given al bayinat, clear signs and proofs of his prophesy which also signify miracles. Then we are told that God strengthened him with ruh-ul-qudus, a holy spirit.
“These Messengers! We preferred some to others; to some of them God spoke directly; others He raised to degrees of honor; and to Jesus the son of Mary, We gave clear signs and evidences, and supported him with a holy spirit…. (Q. 2:253)
The majority of the scholars of Qur’anic exegesis interpret, ruh-ul-qudus, a holy spirit, as the Archangel Gabriel which Muslim theology hails as the deliverer of revelation, of divine scripture to the prophets from God. Al Bayinat is used to mean miracles in antoher sura also (Q. 5:110). Here many miracles are described as signs brought to the Children of Israel through Jesus. So Al Bayinat conveys the meaning of miracles and signs from God as evidence of the validity of a prophet and his divinely revealed message, i.e., scripture. But now let us turn to the first three miracles related to Jesus.
There are three distinct miracles at the beginning of Jesus’ Qur’anic prophetic history that can be said highlight and emphasize the unique nature of his prophesy. They represent the first stage of the miracles in his life and signs of the advent of a prophet:
- A visit by an angel to Mary.
- The birth of Jesus from a virgin.
- The words he spoke in the cradle as a new born infant declaring his mission of prophesy.
The first miracle occurs even before his birth with the appearance of an angel in the form of a man who is sent to inform Mary, an unmarried young girl that she will bear a child. (Q. 3:45) She is understandably quite shocked whereas the angelic messenger’s words, bearing these glad tidings are expressed in the Qur’an as yubashshirruki with the present tense verb bashshara which means to bring or to convey good news. This ayah has been translated into English in a number of different ways including:
“Allah giveth thee glad tidings. God gives you good news. Allah bids you rejoice in a word from Him. God gives you news of a word from Him.”
Although five separate Qur’anic accounts narrate the birth of Jesus, this one is alone and unique in revealing the miraculous visit of an angel in the shape of a man delivering a message to Mary.
“Remember when the angels said: ‘O Mary! Verily, God gives you the glad tidings of a Word from Him, his name will be the Messiah Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and in the Hereafter, and will be one of those who are near to God.’ (Q. 3:45)
The second miracle is the birth of Jesus which is described in five different accounts in the Qur’an (Q. 3:45, Q. 4:171, Q. 19:22-23, Q. 21:91, Q. 23:50). One of them stands alone by giving us a descriptive and colorful view of the scenery and setting of this most fateful event that has fundamentally affected the lives of millions across the globe.
The ayah opens for us a window by where we can envision how Mary was led at the time of the birth of the child to a place of seclusion by the side of a stream.
“Wa Ja’alna Abna Maryama Wa ‘Ummahu ‘Ayatan Wa Awaynahuma Ila Rabwatin Shati Qararin Wa Ma inin.
And We made the son of Mary and his mother as a sign, We gave them shelter on a peaceful hillside with flowing water.” (Q. 23:50)
Such specific details are only found in this ayah while the others tell us in various different ways of the omnipotent power of God to create. The birth of Jesus is specifically clarified in the text as being caused by as Word; God said for the birth to be an then it was. A Word that he said upon Mary and then the child was formed. (Q. 4:171)
In another ayah we are told of the creation of Jesus with the term spirit:
“Wa A-Ati Ahsanat Farjaha Fanafakhna Fiha Min Ruhina Wa Ja’alnaha Was Abnaha Ayatan Lil alamina
And (remember) she who guarded her chastity, We breathed into her from Our Spirit and made her and her son a sign for all people.” (Q. 21:91)
The perception of this event in Christian theology is the main arena of disagreement with the fundamental spiritual belief of Islamic theology. Muslims believe and interpret Qur’anic theology as that only Almighty God brought existence into bring from non-existence, and thus God the Creator He alone deserves to be worshipped and nothing else, at all whatsoever. So the Our Spirit and Word in this ayah is to say that God created them, not that they are part of Him or His divine being according to Muslim belief. Ibn Kathir clarifies this aspect of the monotheistic beliefs of Islam by highlighting a Hadith documented by Ibn Abi Hatim to explain the relevance of this ayah:
“Jesus was not the word. Rather, Jesus came into existence because of the word.”